NUTLEY, NJ — Beginning with an opening reception on Sept. 12, an art exhibit featuring the pastel landscapes and still lifes of local artist Michael Gabriele will be on display at the Nutley Public Library throughout the months of September and October. Sixteen pieces will be on display in the library, with many available for sale.
Gabriele was born and raised in Nutley, graduating from Nutley High School in 1971; he then continued his education at Montclair State University, graduating in 1975 with a degree in philosophy. During the past 30 years, his artwork has been displayed in many northern New Jersey galleries and museums.
Despite not studying communications or fine arts, he always knew he had an interest in writing and painting. “I always was interested in art, always drawing as a kid, and read comic books, took art classes in college and would do it off and on for a number of years,” he said in a recent phone interview with the Nutley Journal. “It wasn’t until I got married in 1989 that I decided that I had to get serious about it if I wanted to pursue it as a career.
“Art was always a part-time passion of mine; in the 1980s I would take art workshops and I kind of knew what was happening in the local art scene and would take classes at Montclair Museum and various workshops,” Gabriele continued. “I did art because I enjoyed it and I thought I was pretty good at it. I would enter an exhibit and then lay off; I soon realized that if I really wanted to do it seriously, I had to apply myself.”
In addition to art, Gabriele also had a keen interest in writing and journalism. While a student at Montclair State University, he wrote for the college newspaper. After graduation, he worked for a weekly newspaper in Clifton, before joining the writing staff of the Nutley Sun in 1976. After a brief hiatus, he returned to the newspaper in 1981 as an editor and spent the early 1980s in that role.
Gabriele credits many of his artistic opportunities to being in the right place at the right time and being prepared.
“I was a member of art organizations in Rutherford, Clifton and Montclair, and my son was a student at Clifton High School and I was a very active band parent,” he said. “In that circle, I got to know people in the fine arts department, members of the board of education and the superintendent. When the school district hired a new head of their fine arts department, the superintendent encouraged me to meet her.”
Gabriele said this introduction with the new department head led to a conversation about his thoughts on the music program in the Clifton School District and his thoughts on how to make it more robust.
“I shared with her that I always thought they should do a better job of cultivating interest in instruments in middle school so that students are more knowledgeable when they reach the high school level,” he said. “By chance, I mentioned that I’m also an artist, I belong to a few organizations and that I’ve won a few awards, etc. She asked if I wanted to be a part of the Art Academy program as an artist-in-residence; it was a total shock that I was not expecting at all.”
Gabriele served as the artist-in-residence for 2011 and 2012 through Clifton High School’s Art Academy, an experience he says he continues to cherish long after.
“I wish it could have lasted longer. Right next door to the high school is the Clifton Arts Center and I organized some trips and students were able to see artwork and also organized art workshops,” he said. “The thought of being any kind of teacher never crossed my mind but that was a lot of fun, and I still keep in touch with some of the students. They were wonderful and very talented. It was just a lucky break out of nowhere.”
The Nutley Public Library exhibit currently on display is also one of those right place, right time opportunities for Gabriele.
“This exhibit came about because a friend from the Nutley Historical Society published a book about notable people in Nutley, and I went to support his event. I’ve been a friend of the library for years, and the librarians have always been very kind to me,” he said. “One of the librarians told me that they just got an opening for September and October for an art exhibit, and I of course said yes. I’m very grateful that they offered that to me, it’s a big honor for me. When you put yourself out there, something clicks and things happen.”
Gabriele’s artwork has been selected five times for display in the prestigious “Art Connections” annual juried exhibit at the George Segal Gallery at Montclair State University, an honor that he says is even more rewarding because the university is his alma mater.
In addition to being on the executive board for the Nutley Historical Society and the advisory board for the Clifton Arts Center, Gabriele is also a member of the New Jersey Folk Festival, Studio Montclair Inc., the Pastel Society of New Jersey and the West Essex Art Association.
“My artwork, landscapes and still lifes, are inspired by simple things on a table or when you spot a scene at a park or something you drive by,” he said. “It’s a challenge for me to capture the moment and add some originality and make my own statement about the world I live in. Those are the things I enjoy doing the most.
“All these little connections over the years are like life,” he continued. “When you put yourself out there, you never know who you will meet or who is watching. I just feel very fortunate that I’m in the position to do things that I enjoy.”